Sustainable packaging at Vukoo

Vukoo leverages mushrooms, hemp for bar packaging

Vukoo Bars Packed in Mycelium Offer Fresh Sustainable Paths

Does the world need more energy bars? Additional cacao-and-almond saturated bricks wrapped in plastic? Are the people of the planet screaming for new meal-replacement slabs packed with dates, cashew butter and coconut flakes?

No! Not one of earth’s 7.8 billion humans laments a poor selection of bars!

They are ubiquitous. I avoid them in part because I find them cloying and unsatisfying. I also reject them for the packaging. If I’m wandering through a market and my sinister impulse-buying brain urges me to grab the smart-branded bar on display, my compassionate THE-PLANET-IS-DYING brain shouts: That wrapper will end up on a beach in Sri Lanka, where it shall remain for thousands of years! The better brain normally wins.

So why am I writing about Vukoo bars?

Sustainable packaging at Vukoo
The bars themselves, like most, get swaddled in plastic. But Vukoo ships a lot of bars, and they rely on mycelium for the packaging.

Compostable packaging part of Vukoo mission

Because of mushrooms, that’s why. Specifically, the mycelium (mushroom roots) that along with hemp waste comprise the protective packaging Vukoo uses to ship the bars. Vukoo itself grows the compostable packaging. The process takes six days. The sustainable packaging breaks down as compost — including home compost rather than just industrial — in 45 days. 

In addition, Aspen-based Vukoo is close to relying upon hemp for all of it paper — the card stocks, the sleeves that wrap the bars. For now, Vukoo uses Forest Stewardship Council paper. The Council plants a tree for every one it cuts down.

Sustainable packaging symbol at Vukoo
Vukoo’s logo incorporates heart and hand, a pair of foundations for human existence.

In the context of sustainable packaging, these aren’t record-breaking long jumps. Like nearly all food CPGs, the bars lean on plastic for the bar wrap; its plastic that retains freshness and shelf-life. Companies across the globe are working on replacements, including more compostable packaging. We will write about them in Cairns.

But Vukoo’s moves aren’t baby steps, either. The company is striding in the right direction.

After yakking with Vukoo co-founder and CEO Christoper Hesse about the bars, I’m enthusiastic about more than the compostable packaging. 

“I wanted to intentionally connect this company with the heart, which is why you can find a heart in our logo,” says Christopher, who self-funded the company after spending four years making the bars in his kitchen and selling them to friends. He estimates he hand-crafted 10,000 bars before formally launching the company in 2016. “We all are connected. We can’t do life alone. And the hand in the logo symbolizes giving. The hand is also a sign of works and action. Apply action and work towards what is in your heart.”

Vukoo supports organic and regenerative ag

After leaving his home kitchen in Colorado Springs, Hesse began making the raw bars in different locations in Colorado: Monument, Thornton, Castle Rock. Eventually he moved manufacturing to Garden Creek Farms in Challis, ID, a unique operation that combines a solar-heated, chemical-free 80-acre farm and ranch with aquaculture and co-packing.

Garden Creek farm in Idaho
Garden Creek Farm in Idaho also supports a co-packing facility. Its combination of sustainable businesses helps sustain a thriving commercial and agricultural enterprise.

“The money we spend on co-packing let’s Garden Creek invest in regenerative agriculture,” says Christopher.

Vukoo bars rely heavily on USDA Certified Organic ingredients. In the banana nut bar I tried this week, the oats, bananas, almonds, coconut nectar, carob and carob powder were organic. The rest of them were things like vitamins, minerals, sunflower lecithin (fatty substances found in sunflower tissues) and beta carotene.

The coconut comes from regenerative and sustainable coconut farms in Thailand. Vukoo scores its carob from a farm in Australia that leverages wind energy and nurtures beehives. Its organic almonds flourish on trees in Spain and Italy; domestic organic almonds are scarce.

COVID strikes Bar World

COVID hit Vukoo, at least at first. Buyers at grocery retailers were “scrambling,” says Christopher.

“They were saying they will focus on what they carry now, and try to figure out new products down the road,” he says. “Buyers’ mission shifted from finding new products to managing what they already carried. They were worried about the supply chain.”

Sustainable packaging is part of the Vukoo mission
The bars offer plenty of protein and fiber, while remaining low on sugars. For people avoiding sugar crashes, this is a good choice.

As raw Vukoo bars are raw and essentially alive, they must sit on refrigerated shelves, where space is dramatically limited compared to the rest of store shelving. 

On the one hand, competition between bars that require refrigeration is diminished compared to the rest of Bar World, as relatively few brands launch bars for those precious refrigerated shelves. 

But the mitigated competition revolves around that limited space: It’s not easy persuading grocers to open that slender real estate to new entrants. 

Despite the challenges, competition is growing more heated on those cold shelves. Two prominent bar grands, Kind Snacks and Boulder’s own Justin’s, launched refrigerated nut bars in 2020.

While COVID slowed-down Vukoo’s drive to reach more stores in 2020 — the company now is poised to expand distribution this year — sales in existing stores expanded by 30 percent during COVID. Whole Foods Markets across the Rocky Mountain Region carries the bars, along with Lucky’s in Boulder and some shops in Boise, ID. Vukoo sells its bars online, too.

Author chows down on meal-replacement bar

This week I swung by Whole Foods Market’s store on Pearl Street in Boulder to check out Vukoo’s display. As usual, I grew sad upon entering the store. No samples. I used to live for samples.

Sustainable packaging at Vukoo
This raw bar wasn’t exactly a meal replacement. But it kept me going for hours. The woman on the computer in the back? My beautiful mom Melinda, in Italy.

I had to ask an employee about where to find Vukoo. She wasn’t sure herself, but brought me to the right refrigerated area quickly. They sat up high, along with the few other refrigerated bars. 

I snagged the banana nut variant. Like all of them, $5. Oof. 

But Vukoo champions the bars as meal replacements. Few store-bought meals cost less than that, although my standard lunch (vegetarian leftovers) barely thins my wallet. Maybe $1 a day. Or less.

By the time I got home it was 10:45. I had not yet eaten, as my new regime does not include breakfast. After months of skipping the meal foisted upon us with immense persuasion and force by the dairy, egg, grain and pork industries, I understood breakfast is entirely unnecessary.

Anyway, Vukoo was my first “meal” of the day. 

Off to a good start. It wasn’t cloying. It tasted real. As the bars are meant as meal replacements, I wondered how long I would last until I needed a boost. 

By 1:30 the stomach began growling. I snacked. Fair enough. 

Was it a meal? Not so much. However, it did ward off hunger for a number of hours. It was satisfying and pleasing, too. 

And my mid-morning munch supported a company that swaddles its bars in compostable packaging made from mycelium that it grows itself. Vukoo continues to seek ways to embrace sustainable packaging, including its upcoming use of hemp paper. It helps support a regenerative farm in Idaho, and hunts for ingredient partners that toil to at least do no harm, if not foster regenerative agricultural practices.

The world does not desire another bar. But it does need more companies like Vukoo investing in Bar 2.0. The next time I decide to bar-up — say, for the halfway point of a long hike — I’ll snag a Vukoo.

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